Social Determinants of Work Initiative

The Social Determinants of Work Initiative seeks to strategically advance access to work by:

  • mitigating barriers faced by workers;
  • promoting employer practices that lead to good jobs;
  • and advocating for policy changes that address systemic barriers.

The initiative’s roadmap for change is laid out in the Community Action Plan.

Table of Contents

What are the Social Determinants of Work?

First described by Dr. Angela Jackson, the Social Determinants of Work framework describes an interconnected web of challenges that workers must navigate daily in order to arrive and thrive at their workplaces.

There’s a pervasive American myth that anyone with a strong enough work ethic can succeed, but in reality, people face complex barriers that motivation alone cannot overcome. Those living in or near poverty often work long, hard hours, but are trapped in low-wage jobs by obstacles that have nothing to do with their abilities or motivation. These barriers to economic mobility are collectively called the Social Determinants of Work.

Dr. Jackson, United Way, and Towards Employment have identified eight barriers to work that are addressed in our Social Determinants of Work Initiative:

Job Flexibility

Paid time off; Paid family medical leave; Flexible schedule; Remote work

Sustained Education

Career development opportunities; Time to pursue education; Tuition assistance; English language learning and literacy


Lower premiums for employer-provided insurance; PTO/PFML; Increased access to telehealth

Home and Community Health

Stable housing; Access to quality food, healthcare, and mental health services; Safe living environment


Affordable and accessible; Extended coverage options

Broadband Access

Reliable internet; Necessary device for education and work; Skills development


Reliable and safe; Affordable; Flexibility to address issues

Access to Justice

Fair interactions with legal system; Legal counsel when needed; Opportunities post-conviction

United Way of Greater Cleveland and Towards Employment have identified the following 8 Social Determinants of Work, which will be explored throughout our SDoW initiative:

Initiative Objectives

The Social Determinants of Work Initiative seeks to alleviate the impact of these barriers through three levers:


Mitigate Barriers

Focus programmatic efforts on the mitigation of select, intersecting determinants.


Encourage Employer Practice Shifts

Empower employers to implement practices and policies that enable workers to achieve economic mobility.


Eliminate Systemic Barriers

Drive systems-level change by promoting public policies that recognize the intersectionality of the determinants.

Community Events and Input

At United Way we have taken a community-oriented approach to understanding how the Social Determinants of Work operate in Greater Cleveland. At every step we solicited input from community members, including individuals facing barriers to work, other non-profit agencies, and local employers. In addition, we have hosted multiple public events educating around and problem solving for economic mobility.

July 2022 • Worker Cliff Effects Summit

A summit on the effects of the benefit cliff which engaged attendees in creating a list of assets and gaps.

Fall 2022 • Community Action Plan Working Sessions

A series of community conversations aimed at capturing the diverse experiences of different populations within our region.

March 2023 • Social Determinants of Work Symposium

A symposium exploring the barriers faced by workers in our community, with a Keynote Speech by Dr. Angela Jackson, founder of Future Forward Strategies.

Community Action Plan

Our Community Action Plan sets a bold vision for enhancing access to meaningful work for all members of the Greater Cleveland community.
By harnessing collective action, United Way will convene organizations across Greater Cleveland to increase opportunities for people to escape poverty’s generational grasp, secure living wages, and prosper.

Driven by research, rooted in the lived experiences of our community members, and inspired by private, public, and nonprofit partners, the action plan revolves around 5 key strategies:


Harness the power of collective impact through the creation of the SDoW Coalition.


Focus programmatic efforts on creating significant impact in select determinants.


Empower employers to implement and evaluate practices and policies that enable workers to make steady progress towards a better financial future.


Drive systems-level change by promoting public policy that recognizes the intersectionality of the determinants.


Commit to action, partnership, and transparency.

Read the Report

Read the full report to learn more about United Way of Greater Cleveland’s strategy to identify and break down barriers to work.

Cover of the Community Action Plan pdf

Funders and Partners

The George Gund Foundation

For more information on the Social Determinants of Work initiative, contact Renée Timberlake at

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